Red Hook comes to life in Brooklyn native’s novel
Set in Red Hook, Brooklyn native Ivy Pochoda’s new novel “Visitation Street” (Ecco/Dennis Lehane Books) paints an intricate portrait of the neighborhood as its community grapples with tragedy.
June and Val are two teenagers savoring the last days of summer, and though June is no stranger to mischief, it is one of her and Val’s innocent adventures that leads to her disappearance. When Val is discovered washed ashore and June is nowhere to be found, Red Hook residents become embroiled in the mystery.
Through richly diverse characters, Pochoda deftly depicts the gentrifying neighborhood, in which gourmet supermarkets and projects are juxtaposed. With calculated suspense, she divulges the truth surrounding June’s absence through the stories of various Red Hook residents: Val, who struggles with the loss of her friend yet no longer lives in her shadow; Fadi, an inquisitive Lebanese bodega owner; Cree, a teenager from the projects whose father has been murdered; John, an alcoholic music teacher; and a strangely anonymous young man who becomes instrumental in the community’s search for answers.
An in-depth exploration of both human nature and a Brooklyn neighborhood, “Visitation Street” is a poignant read. Pochoda will appear to read in Brooklyn on July 11 (at BookCourt in Cobble Hill), and on July 14 (at Bait & Tackle in Red Hook). In anticipation, Brooklyn Eagle spoke to the author, who is now based in Los Angeles. She shared with us how she got started on her thrilling story and what she misses most about Brooklyn.
What inspired you to set your story in Red Hook?
Well, I was living there on Van Brunt Street right across from the Bait & Tackle and Old Pioneer bars. I was struggling to dig into a new project so I did what any reasonable 30-year-old would do—I asked my mother’s advice. “Write about what’s going on outside your window,” she told me.
So I did. I took her literally and began to describe what was happening in the bars, out on the sidewalk, in the bodega. It was summer and the Queen Mary had docked, so I began to write about the ship and the lazy sounds of summer. Soon my narrative took me far from my block and from the places I could see out my window deeper into the neighborhood. I spent a great deal of unproductive time in those bars—not that I regret a split second of it—and I took my novel as a way to make something useful out of so many late nights.
You describe the Red Hook neighborhood so vividly – did you spend much time there when you were growing up? (if not, did you spend much time there researching your book?)
I lived in Red Hook and in what I guess is now called the Columbia Waterfront District for three years. In addition to the apartment across from the bars where I began “Visitation Street,” I lived in two wonderful apartments that had full views of the river, the bay, the Statue of Liberty, Staten Island, and New Jersey. I didn’t imagine that I was doing research at the time but the views from my various windows became the backdrop to my novel.
Where in Brooklyn are you from? …do you still visit often?
I am from Cobble Hill, Clinton Street to be precise. I visit about six times a year.
Now that you’re living in Los Angeles, what do you miss most about Brooklyn?
That’s easy. My mom and her little pit bull, Violet. I also miss sitting on our stoop on a summer evening and eating in our backyard. I miss walking down to the waterfront and seeing people hanging around outside. There’s not a lot of communal outdoor culture here in LA.
What are you working on now?
As of yesterday, I couldn’t have answered that. But a nagging spark that might become an idea has recently been buzzing around my head. I can’t say for sure what will come of it. I am also talking to the Lamp Community, a non-profit based in Skid Row in Los Angeles committed to ending homelessness, about leading a creative writing group and starting a literary magazine.
The July 11 reading will begin at 7 p.m. BookCourt is located at 163 Court St. in Cobble Hill.
The July 14 reading will begin at 7 p.m. Bait & Tackle is located at 320 Van Brunt St. in Red Hook.
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